by Carolyn Bick
Washington State is just a hair’s breadth away from reaching its goal of a 70% vaccination rate among people aged 16 and older, but Gov. Jay Inslee said in an afternoon press conference on June 9 that the state would essentially fully reopen on June 30, regardless of whether the state reaches its vaccination rate goal by that date.
Currently, Inslee said in the afternoon briefing, the state sits at a 66.4% vaccination rate among people aged 16 and older. He explained that though people aged 12 and older are currently eligible to be vaccinated, the State is only counting those aged 16 and older, because officials started tracking vaccination rates when people in that age range were the only ones eligible for vaccinations. People aged 12–15 did not become eligible for vaccinations until mid-May, and they are currently still only eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine.
Less than two hours before Gov. Inslee’s press conference, the City of Seattle announced in a press release that the City had reached a vaccination rate of 70% among people aged 12 and older and had exceeded the goal of vaccinating 70% of people aged 16 and older. It is the first major American city to do so, and Inslee congratulated the City and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on reaching this milestone. Currently, 78% of City residents aged 12 and older have started, but not yet completed, the vaccination process, the press release said.
When the State reopens on June 30, Inslee said, there will only be a few COVID mitigation protocols in place. These protocols include limiting to 75% capacity large, indoor events where the venue can hold 10,000 people, and all of those people must be masked. Social distancing will not be required. While industries may return to usual operations by June 30, Inslee said, workers must continue to observe masking guidelines. Current Labor & Industries guidelines can be found on the Department of Labor & Industries website.
Inslee also said that the federal government has not yet sent the State the full vaccine information for veterans and active military personnel who have been vaccinated. Therefore, these figures are not in the State’s database, which means that these people have not been entered into the State’s incentive program. The program, called Shot of a Lifetime, features $250,000 for four Washington State residents aged 16 or older who have been vaccinated in the state and $1 million for one person aged 16 or older who has been vaccinated in the state. The money comes from the State’s lottery. There is a slew of other incentives for people aged 16 and older as well as an incentive program for people aged 12–15 who have been vaccinated. The first drawing took place on June 8. Drawings will take place every week until mid-July.
Because the state may not receive information for the people vaccinated through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) or the Department of Defense (DOD) before the Shot of a Lifetime program closes, Inslee committed to setting up an incentive program exclusively for these individuals and that this program “will be stood up as soon as humanly possible.”
Inslee also said that the State has added the aggregate number of doses that the DOD and VA have told the State the two departments have collectively administered to veterans and members of the military in Washington State. He said that this adds 152,000 people to the state’s total vaccinated population, bringing the total to about 4 million people vaccinated throughout the state.
Despite the press conference’s highlights, Inslee stressed multiple times that vaccinations are the key to lowering disease and death rates. He said that Washingtonians need to be wary of the new Delta variant that first appeared in India and is currently streaking through the United Kingdom.
According to a recent NPR story, the Delta variant is a relatively new, more transmissible variant that is thought to be responsible for more than 60% of infections in the U.K. and is causing surges in cases in parts of the sovereign state. The Pfizer vaccine appears to be only slightly less effective against this variant, at 88% effectiveness versus a 93% efficacy rate against the B.1.1.7 variant — now called the Alpha variant — that had first been detected in the U.K. in December 2020. The Delta variant may be the source of 18% of COVID-19 cases in some Western states in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Moreover, Inslee said, 98% of people who have been hospitalized with complications from COVID-19 are those who have not been vaccinated against the now-multiple strains of the virus that causes the disease. In a press conference earlier in the day on June 9, Washington State Department of Health (DOH) Health Sec. Umair Shah said that the two-week hospitalization rates for unvaccinated people aged 45–64 were 21 times higher than for vaccinated people. For unvaccinated people aged 65 and older, Shah said, the hospitalization rates are 18 times higher than in fully vaccinated people.
“I want to make sure that we do not see in the state of Washington — or, frankly, anywhere in the globe — a tale of two societies: those who are vaccinated and going about their business and being able to not be as concerned about COVID-19 transmission or infection and those who are unvaccinated and unprotected thinking falsely that they are protected or that the pandemic is over and the virus will not be an issue and then get in trouble because they get sick,” Shah said.
Shah said that about 36% of the State’s population aged 16 and older have not started their vaccinations. He encouraged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible, stressing the now readily available number of vaccines and the various methods of transportation available for people to get to vaccination sites. He also said that people who are finding it difficult to get vaccinated should call 1-833-VAX-HELP (1-833-829-4357).
Over the course of six months’ worth of vaccinations, the State has given out 7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, DOH Assistant Sec. Michele Roberts said in the DOH press conference. She said she is confident that the state is well on its way to a 70% vaccination rate among Washingtonians aged 16 and older.
“Over … flu vaccination season every year, which is about 10 months of vaccination, we only reach, for comparison … 56% of Washingtonians are usually vaccinated,” Roberts said. “So, now, here we are sitting at six months of vaccination, and for our entire population we have a number much higher than that.”
More information on getting vaccinated in King County can be found at the King County website. More information on getting vaccinated in Seattle can be found at the City of Seattle website. The State also offers a Vaccine Locator tool to help people to find a vaccination site at a pharmacy, medical center, community vaccination site, or mass vaccination site. All vaccinations are free and people do not need to be United States citizens or have health insurance to get vaccinated.
Readers should note that the Rainier Beach vaccination site will permanently close down at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 23. The Lumen Field mass vaccination site will permanently shut down at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 12.
Featured image by Alex Garland.